Prison farms are correctional facilities that are established with the aim of offering area for economical use. Most of these regions or areas are used for offenders who are serving their term with manual labor. They are open air lands where a series of activities take place. Some of the activities that take place in these prison farms include agriculture, quarrying and at times logging. Historically, these farms were known as penal colonies. These farms also supply medical care on the best level: It helped some prisoner to get rid of tonsil stones it helped another one cure constipation and another one with his back problems.

There are various types of activities that take place in prison farms. Some of these activities include dairy farming, poultry keeping, horticulture and pig rearing. Each of these farms is established by prisons with the intention of handling prisoners who have been sentenced to prison with hard labor. Though this is the goal, these farms do not exist to offer or create harsh conditions for the prisoners. Essentially, these farms exist with the main objective of rehabilitating these hard core criminals to become useful upon release from the prison.

What is the importance of prison farms? Prison farms serve various purposes. For instance, the agricultural produce generated from these farms is used to feed the prisoners. If it is produced in excess, some of the produce is sold to generate income for the prison.

Prison farms provide education and vocational guidance to some of the convicts. These programs provide the offenders with vital information and skills on how to improve their lives. In essence, prisoners who participate in these farms end up with new skills that are critical when it comes to reintegration into the wider community.

The prison farm programs are designed in such a manner that the prisoners are able to confront some of their criminal behaviors. Through these programs, the prisoners are able to develop social skills and behavior controlling techniques. The prisoners who are normally subjected to such programs are aided in learning to handle their emotions as well work together as teams.

Certain values are instilled in these prisoners. For instance, a prisoner is able to learn the value of generating income. If a prisoner is convicted and lacks a set of values, the prison farms provide conducive grounds to instill values such as hard work, perseverance, patience and commitment. When a prisoner is able to appreciate what he is doing or even achieving, then he starts to develop confidence which is part of development.

Upon visiting the prison farms, one thing you will discover is that some prisoners are given specific roles to attend. For example, there are cases where these prisoners are given managerial roles to supervise other prisoners; others are given tasks aligned to book keeping and management. The general outcome is that these prisoners will come out of these farms with useful skills that will make them better people in the society.

In addition, some of these farms are used as reference points. Due to the nature of farming taking place, there are instances where people from the society come to learn from these farms. These farms become learning centers not just for the prisoners, but for the wider society as well.
Across the country there is a ground swell of support for Correctional Service of Canada’s six prison farm operations.  Our nation’s prison farms are cutting edge operations that work for inmates, for the prison system, for local farmers, and for the vast majority of Canadians who believe in the rehabilitation, self-reliance, diversified training, and nourishing food produced on these farms by offenders to feed themselves.  Furthermore, the prison farms provide local farmers with essential support by helping to keep local farm supply businesses viable, and in some cases, like the abattoir at Pittsburgh Institution near Kingston, they provide important services directly to local farmers and the broader community.

Revitalizing Canada’s Prison Farms – The Way Forward

This Revitalization proposal builds on the strong traditions and important functions of Canada’s prison farms by focusing on what they already do well – help offenders pay their way and rehabilitate themselves through agriculture, and work in partnership with local farmers and communities.  We envision the following research and development steps as the way forward:

Step 1: Research the impacts of prison farms in Canada and abroad on inmates, local farms and businesses, taxpayers and the environment.  There seems to be little doubt from the literature and from numerous testimonials we have collected (see links below and the testimonials page) that prison farms are extremely successful.  A full auditing of this success is required in order to substantiate this evaluation, and to find opportunities for improvement and expansion of the programs.  In particular, such an impact assessment should research and evaluate:

  • Impacts on offenders in terms of the diversity of employable attitudes and skills acquired (punctuality, team work, welding, equipment maintenance, heavy equipment operation, product packaging, inventory tracking, etc), the therapeutic benefits of working with plants and animals, and the health and wellness impacts of eating fresh food grown at the prisons.  This research should consider recidivism rates of inmates who have worked in Canada’s prison farms and at those in other countries.
  • Impacts on local farmers and farm systems in terms of loss of direct services (e.g. abattoir) and the loss of business for local farm supply and service businesses.
  • Impacts on local food systems in terms of loss of donations to food banks and potential loss of valuable farmland.
  • Impact on taxpayers in terms of the increased cost to prison kitchens when outsourcing eggs, milk, meat and other products through NAFTA compliant contracts that could see food shipped in from other countries, as opposed to from within the prison system.
  • Impacts on the environment in terms of increased foodmiles and larger carbon footprint that will result from shipping in food from abroad.
  • Other impacts that might be identified.

Step 2: Develop locally specific revitalization plans in collaboration with local farmers and communities where the prison farms are located.  Each prison farm and community it is situated in has different needs.  Consultations should be set up with local farmers, food system businesses and potential partner organizations to explore synergies for program development.  Particular attention should be paid to the possibilities for inmates to get real work experience not only on the prison farms themselves, but working for local farmers at key times of the year.  There is a serious farm labour shortfall in Canada that might be addressed here.  Attention will also be focused on local opportunities for innovation, such as those outlined in Step 3 below.

Step 3: Revitalize the prison farms with innovative programs that maintain the excellence of these farms and develop them as models for the future of agriculture in their regions.  Each region has different opportunities for partnerships and innovation.  Each farm should choose at least one revitalization initiative that will become their signature program and serve as a demonstration project for the broader farming and food community, as well as for the other prison farms across the country.  Some innovative ideas already under discussion at some of the prison farms include the following.  This is a menu of possibilities to be added to and selected from depending on what makes most sense for each prison farm:

  • Corcan revisits their dedication to the farm system and creates a senior management position that is responsible for the effective and efficient management of the prison farms. This person must be educated in agricultural practices.
  • Re-visit the decision to replace food produced at our institutions with food purchased through MERX which can come from any country signed onto Canada’s Free Trade Agreement and result in higher costs for tax payers.
  • Cheese production for the prison system, e.g. St. Lawrence College in Kingston is interested in a collaborative venture with training in cheese production and a certificate for inmates at Frontenac Institution.
  • Biogas digester for manure, perhaps combined with other renewable energy projects, like solar power where there is a possibility for collaboration with the Queen’s University School of Business in Kingston, to make a Green Energy Farm program.  This would take advantage of the new Green Energy Act in Ontario and the Feed-in Energy rates and help generate income for the prisons.
  • The set up of a new training certificate program for a “skilled farm labourer” – this could be replicated in all the prison farms across Canada.
  • Conversion to more sustainable agriculture (as the prison farms in New Zealand have done) to serve as a model for greening farms in the region.